Lakewood Partition Lawyers

The City of Lakewood was first developed as a post-World War II planned housing development by Louis Boyar, Mark Taper, and Ben Weingart. These three men are credited as the people who forever altered the map of Southern California. Homes were massed produced, with over 17,500 houses being built in less than three years, setting the record for 110 completed houses each day. According to Redfin, in June 2023, Lakewood home prices were down 1.7% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $500K. On average, homes in Lakewood sell after 13 days on the market compared to 6 days last year. There were 57 homes sold in June this year, down from 78 last year. Over 70% of Lakewood homes are owner-occupied, which suggests that many homes are jointly owned. Residents of Lakewood who wish to sell their homes may face disputes with co-owners. There are at least four different instances where an Lakewood Partition Lawyer can be helpful: 

  • Boyfriend-Girlfriend co-ownership of property;
  • Sibling-Sibling co-ownership of property;
  • Parent-Child co-ownership of property; and
  • Investor-Investor co-ownership of property;
What Is a Partition Action in California?

Partitions are lawsuits that split up the property between multiple co-owners so that each can take their equity out of the home. The prototypical partition are between siblings, former romantic partners, or business partners. Both own parts of the property, but only one wants to end the relationship and take their money out. Partitions enable this to happen, usually ending with a court-ordered sale of the subject property.

Basically, any person who is an owner of real estate can bring a partition action in California. Code of Civil Procedure section 872.710, subdivision (a), states "A partition action may be commenced and maintained by any…owner of…such property." California Civil Code section 872.210 provides a property owner with the "absolute right to partition" absent a valid waiver. Thus, a partition action can be brought by anyone who no longer wants to own jointly owned real estate, other than spousal property.

Generally, a partition action cannot be stopped absent a valid waiver. The instances in which a court has found a valid waiver have generally involved some sort of written contract or adverse possession of property. As such, many parties try to stop a partition action through mediation, or a buy-out agreement. In most instances, the parties to a partition action can benefit from creative lawyering by those who are familiar with the different options for resolving real estate disputes. The best Lakewood Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

First, a partition action is filed. A partition action can be filed if one co-owner of real property or a piece of real estate wishes to sell the property or piece of real estate in question but the other co-owners or co-tenants do not wish to sell their ownership rights.

Second, the court may appoint a court referee to oversee the sale of the property in question. The sales procedure includes that all parties agree to the terms and conditions of the sale in writing. If the parties can not agree, as partition actions are usually very contested issues, then the referee that the court appointed may recommend terms and conditions to the court. Then the court will hold a hearing to decide whether or not to accept those terms and conditions.

Third, in California, the property’s value will be appraised via a third party or another property appraisal with no ties to any of the parties. While this is not required in all states, it is recommended to make sure that all parties are on the same metaphorical page as to the potential sale proceeds of the property in question.

Fourth, the referee will conduct the sale in the method most agreeable to all of the party’s goals. This can be via a public auction or a private sale. Regardless of the specific method of partition by sale, the court will determine if the sale was “fair.” If it is decided that the property’s sale proceeds had a lack of proper notice, the sale amount is not within reasonable the value of the property, or if the proceeds were unfair- the court would rule that the property will be up for sale again.

Lastly, the court will order that the proceeds of the sale, minus any court litigated or approved offsets or costs, will be distributed equitably amongst all of the co-owners or people with interest in the property. A top Lakewood Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Recover Attorneys’ Fees in a Partition Action?

Code of Civil Procedure, section 874.010 states that “[t]he costs of partition include: (a) [r]easonable attorney’s fees incurred or paid by a party for the common benefit.”  

Interestingly, the costs of partition can also include reasonable expenses necessarily incurred by a party for the common benefit in prosecuting or defending other actions or proceedings for the protection, confirmation, or perfection of title, setting the boundaries, or making a survey of the property. (CCP § 874.020.)  

That attorney’s fees are considered “costs” associated with a partition action is important because Section 874.040 goes on to state the “court shall apportion the costs of partition among the parties in proportion to their interests or make such other apportionment as may be equitable.” A knowledgeable Lakewood Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Code of Civil Procedure section 874.140 states that the “court may, in all cases, order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustments among the parties according to the principles of equity.”  

The court in Hunter v. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24 stated that the payments for interest, taxes, and insurance made by any co-tenant could be subject to reimbursement. These claims for reimbursement are commonly known as “offsets” in a partition action.

Further, the court under Milian v. De Leon (1986) 181 Cal.App.3d 1185, announced that a co-tenant who expends money for the preservation of the property, or with the [acceptance] of their co-tenant(s), is entitled to reimbursement for those expenditures before the division of the proceeds among the property owners.

That is, the general rule is that compensatory adjustments are appropriate for improvements that enhance the value of the property for all owners’ benefit. (see Wallace v. Daley (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1035-1036.) An experienced Lakewood Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Meade v. Helm (2022): The Standard for Summary Judgment

There are many different motions parties can file in court to help their case in litigation. One fairly common motion that litigants will use is a motion for summary judgment. If the motion for summary judgment is granted, then the case is decided without even going to trial.

While having a summary judgment motion granted in one’s favor can be ideal since this avoids trial, the legal standard for summary judgment is extremely strict. Due to this strict standard, it is generally rare for courts to grant summary judgment. Parties must be aware of the summary judgment standard and how that standard applies to their situation.

What Led This Case to the District Court?

The property at issue in Meade v. Helm(2022) Cal.App.Unpub. WL 1304026 was real property purchased by Lisana Meade and Jules Helm as a married couple. (Id., at 1.) In November 1999, Helm and Meade separated and began divorce proceedings. (Id.)

While the divorce proceedings started, Helm asked Meade to sign a quitclaim deed for the property. (Id.) Helm claimed that Meade signed the quitclaim deed in 2000, which Helm said he had in his possession. (Id.) Meade contended that she returned the quitclaim deed to Helm unsigned. (Id.) Meade further argued that the signature on the quitclaim deed was forged. (Id.)

Meade sued Helm for partition by sale and accounting in state court. (Id.) Helm removed the lawsuit to the United States District Court and requested summary judgment to Meade’s claims. (Id.)

Helm argued that Meade had no ownership interest in the property based on the quitclaim deed. (Id.) Helm also argued that, alternatively, Helm argued that Meade’s claims were barred by statute of limitations. (Id.) Meade also moved for summary judgment, arguing that she was entitled to partition by sale because she was a co-owner of the property. (Id.) The District Court denied both Helm’s and Mead’s motions. (Id.)

Meade’s Holding: Material Facts and Genuine Disputes 

For summary judgment to be granted, the moving party must establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact. (Id.) The court must make all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. (Id.) A fact is “material” when a determination on that fact might affect the lawsuit’s outcome. (Id.) An issue is “genuine” when a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. (Id.)

When there are cross-motions for summary judgment, the court evaluates each motion separately. (Id., at 2.) The court examines each party's evidence no matter what motion the evidence was offered under. (Id.)

Meade and Helm made several objections to the evidence in the parties’ filings. (Id.) Meade objected to Helm’s copy of the deed, stating that Helm had no grounds of authenticity. (Id.) Helm did provide grounds for authenticity, however, through his testimony that the deed was a true and correct copy of the quitclaim deed, and Helm recognized Meade’s signature on the deed. (Id.) The District Court held that Helm provided sufficient grounds of authenticity and overruled Meade’s objection. (Id.)

Helm objected to statements Meade made in her declaration describing Helm’s behavior at certain times. (Id.) The evidence Helm objected to was not relevant to the motions, so the District Court concluded that it did not need to resolve Helm’s objections. (Id.)

On Helm’s summary judgment motion, Helm argued that Meade had no ownership interest in the property because Meade signed and sent him a valid quitclaim deed. (Id., at 3.) Meade argued that she did not sign the quitclaim deed and the signature was forged. (Id.)

If Meade’s signature on the quitclaim was actually forged, then Meade would have still possessed an ownership interest in the property. (Id.) Whether the signature was forged or not was a material fact that the parties contest, with the parties each offering evidence to support their side. (Id.)

Helm contended that he recognized Meade’s signature on the quitclaim deed because he watched her sign many documents over the course of their marriage. (Id.) Helm also claimed that when he asked Meade to quitclaim her interest in the property, she said she would do so. (Id.) Additionally, Helm argued that after their divorce, he maintained the property alone. (Id.) Helm further stated that, until this lawsuit, Meade never contested his sole ownership of the property. (Id.)

Meade, on the other hand, stated that she returned the quitclaim deed to Helm unsigned. (Id., at 4.) Meade also said that the signature on the deed contained the last name “Helm,” and Meade never used “Helm” as her last name during her marriage. (Id.) Meade asserted that her passport and driver’s license at the time showed her last name as “Meade,” not as “Helm”. (Id.) Meade argued she contributed to the initial purchase of the property with her own money and always considered herself a one-half owner. (Id.)

With both parties offering contradictory evidence, the District Court held that this issue was in genuine dispute. (Id.) Additionally, the District Court found that this issue was material because the signature’s authenticity would dictate whether Meade still had an ownership interest in the property. (Id.) Since there was a genuine issue of material fact, the District Court concluded that Helm was not entitled to summary judgment. (Id.)

Helm argued that alternatively, Meade’s partition claim was barred by the statute of limitations. (Id.) Helm contended that the statute of limitations was five years from when Meade last possessed the property. (Id.)

The five-year statute of limitations depended on when Meade last possessed the property, but whether she still had ownership interest in the property was a genuine dispute of fact. (Id.) The District Court found that there was a genuine dispute over whether the statute of limitations applied to Meade’s claims and denied Holme’s summary judgment motion. (Id., at 4-5.)

For Meade’s summary judgment motion, Meade argued that she and Helm had interests in the property and so she was rightfully entitled to partition. (Id., at 5.) The District Court, however, had previously concluded that there was a genuine dispute as to whether Meade had any ownership interest in the property. (Id.) The District Court held that Meade’s claim of her right to partition was meritless, and the District Court denied Meade’s motion for summary judgment. (Id.)

Meade shows just how severe the legal standard for summary judgment is in litigation. If there is even a hint that the dispute is genuine, then courts will err on the side of caution and allow the case to progress to trial. Since courts are commonly risk-averse, it is extraordinarily difficult for a party to prevail on a summary judgment motion unless the evidence is incredibly one-sided.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help You

As seen in Meade, the legal standards for summary judgment motions are incredibly challenging to meet. This is because summary judgment skips over trial and goes straight to the court’s ruling. As such, courts want to be completely sure that they are making the right call.   

Here at Underwood Law Firm, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help navigate the complex web of case law and statutes surrounding partitions. If you are trying to plan a partition order, or just have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to our office.

Learn more here.

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